Cartoonist’s Works Light Up City

by Anh Thu

Source: Vietnam News Daily, March 2, 2006

A collection of works by one of Viet Nam’s most famous cartoonists are on show at an exhibition which opened in HCM City on Tuesday.

The Tu Do Gallery has put on display 28 oil paintings by the late Choe – real name Nguyen Hai Chi – portraying Vietnamese artists and writers.

Choe’s works are about people and the paintings at the exhibition, like all his other works, provide an insight into Viet Nam through its people and their characters.

They also create the distinct feeling that the world and people living in it are, by nature, simple and free.
For music fans, an oil painting, "Nhac Si Tran Tien" (Composer Tran Tien), is the highlight of the exhibition.
Using pinks and blues, Choe portrays an animated man with long hair, playing a guitar and singing, clearly Tran Tien.

The 51cm by 60cm canvas, "Nghe Si Tra Giang" (Movie Star Tra Giang), is for movie buffs. It is a celebration of the beauty of southern Vietnamese women, particularly Tra Giang, one of the country’s most talented actors.

"Choe is one of our favorite artists. He began to exhibit his paintings at our gallery in 1989," said gallery owner, Tran Thi Thu Ha. She said her gallery stored nearly a hundred of his paintings, mostly canvas.
Ha said people loved Choe’s works because "he combines the art of cartoon and the art of oil painting, making his works very lively and funny."

The life and times of Choe

Choe, born in 1943 in An Giang Province, started his career in a newspaper in Sai Gon now HCM City at the age of 22.

He was an instant hit with millions of readers at home and abroad with his funny cartoons about the Vietnamese and their lifestyles. His political cartoons, lampooning public figures of the former US-backed Sai Gon administration in the 1960s and the 1970s, won him both fans and critics.

In 1973 a collection of Choe’s cartoons was published in the form of a book, The World of Choe, by Glade Publications in the US.

In 1995 he was the only Vietnamese cartoonist to be featured at the Asia-Pacific Cartoon Exhibition organised by the Japan Foundation’s ASEAN Culture Centre in Tokyo. Ten of his cartoons were displayed under the title, The Women of My Country.

Choe’s cartoons have appeared in many Vietnamese and foreign publications, including Lao Dong (Labour), Phu Nu (Women), Tuoi Tre Cuoi (Youth Humor), Time, The New York Times, Chicago Daily News, and Ashahi Shimbun.

They have also been displayed at many solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad.

The prolific and versatile artist produced about 15,000 cartoons in his lifetime, mainly targeting corruption, social vices, and violence against women, winning the admiration of art lovers and common people alike.
He died in 2003 after a long battle with illness.

The HCM City exhibition, titles Artists&Writers’ Portraits, runs until March 16. Choe’s paintings are reportedly fetching US$1,200 to $2,200 at the exhibition.